The Cubs are asking Yu Darvish to step up and save their season on in Game 2.
For six-plus innings in Game 1, Cubs hurler Kyle Hendricks came exactly as advertised, keeping the Miami Marlins off the board. Then things went sideways, with the Fish hanging a five-spot in the seventh – pushing Chicago to the brink of elimination in the NL Wild Card Series.
On Thursday, David Ross turns to perhaps his most dominant starter in hopes of staving off another short postseason exit for the Cubs. Yu Darvish, a presumptive Cy Young finalist, is no doubt up to the task. He’s coming into this game on a mission to erase the narrative that’s surrounded him since the 2017 World Series, when the Houston Astros shellacked him in a pair of starts.
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Of course, now we know that team was aided by their far-reaching sign-stealing scandal and that’s certainly enough to make one question if Darvish was entirely at-fault for his struggles. Regardless, he’s put that behind him and re-established himself as one of the best starting pitchers in the game over the last year-plus.
This year, Darvish led all NL pitchers in WAR (3.0), according to Fangraphs, while ranking in the top eight percent of the league with his 4.3 percent walk rate. Given his previous command issues, this is particularly critical if he’s to have success in Game 2. If the 34-year-old right-hander is spotting his pitches, the Marlins could be in trouble.
Miami has struggled a great deal against right-handed pitching in 2020 (although that went right out the window late in Game 1). With the Cubs’ elder statesman, Jon Lester, waiting in a potential Game 3 – Chicago is looking for what’s become a typical Darvish performance at Wrigley Thursday afternoon.
Darvish, who is under team control through 2023, will likely be the seasoned ace atop the team’s rotation next year, regardless of what happens in Game 2. But whether or not the Cubs advance past this round will likely dictate whether or not the front office begins dismantling the core that brought the team its first World Series title in 108 years back in 2016.
That core, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, will have to step up and handle their business at the dish from here on out. All have struggled mightily in 2020 – especially Baez and Bryant. On Wednesday, the former swung through too many fastballs over the plate to count.
Darvish has awaited this moment since coming to Chicago. Locked in and ready to put the Cubs on his back for the first time in October, the right-hander knows that he’s the key to the team pushing forward in pursuit of another ring.